Chan Marshall is Cat Power. The name Cat Power was borrowed from a hat (you know, Caterpillar -- the big heavy machinery). Its so cool to think about living part of your life as one thing, and the rest as another, but with wings. Chan Marshall, on The Covers Record, has released songs that we already know from their cocoons, and transformed them into new beasts with subtle caterpillar-like power.good Brian Caviness talked with her in April.
Youre in Tennessee, right?
Im in Memphis, Im going to go pick up my cds, and then Im going to have some lunch. Then Im going to get on the road.
What kinds of things do you think about when you are on the road?
I think about resting a lot. I need to eat at some point. Its kinda like you deprive yourself from food and sleep and relaxation. A lot of trying to meet appointments, and a lot of interviews, sound-check times and finding the hotel. I have a headache right now. But then, you know theres great things. One day, Ill be in Tuscon, and Ill be able to go horseback riding in the Cactus Canyon or whatever, then Ill be in Atlanta tomorrow and I can hang out with my best friend for lunch, you know, little things like that are good.
So, youre originally from Atlanta, right?
I was born in Atlanta, yeah.
How long were you there?
Um, it was one of the off-and-on pit stops in my formative years. I went to twelve different schools, so I dont know how many times I lived there.
Will you see family there?
No well, my dad might come see me for the first time, he said.
Has anyone in your family seen you play?
My sister saw me about four years ago.
What did she think?
(doing an impression of her sister) Oh, I like that. Thats real nice. Thats good, yeah, that sounds real good. Well, I have to go home now.
I was at Little Brothers in Columbus, OH. What did you think about that show?
It was very weird.
It seemed that there were a lot of people that paid money to come and not listen to you.
Yeah, that happens. That happens in Memphis and Columbus. Yeah, I just played a show just like that last night. They came and paid money, which is really sad. Theyre willing to pay to get into a bar. The young people go see a band. They dont really care about what band it is. "Im going to this place cos everybody else is."
Do you paint, as well as play music?
No. One day, when I lived in the country two years ago, I just got bored. My boyfriend and I went to Wal-Mart and bought some paints cos we found all this paper in the recycling bin at the dump, and so we bought yellow, blue, red, and white. For eight hours (I made dinner in between paintings), I just made a bunch of paintings and never did it again. Its kinda how it is with songwriting. "Oh, I feel like playin the guitar. Oh, look. I have four new songs. Im tired. I wanna go out to eat or something." Im not like a "writer". I dont get inspired and have to go and write songs. I dont get my pen out and try to make things rhyme. I dont get out my guitar and try to cover Rolling Stones songs. "Oh, how am I gonna do this?" Its all pretty much just trial and error. Theyre just fuck-ups. Theyre just unfocused impulses, basically.
Theres something thats fun about that, I guess?
Sure, you do it, dont you? Dont you do something? Someone might say, "Oh, man you really suck at golf." But you always seem on the seventeenth, from fucking twelve feet away to always get it in. Everyone is like, "What! but you dont even know how to play, and you never practice. How did you do that? How did you get that in that hole?" Its not premeditated. Everybody does shit like that.
Maybe youre happier then the people that try so hard.
I see what you mean. Yeah, Im not like, desperately trying to write a song, or desperately trying to learn to play the guitar, trying to desperately figure out what songs to cover. Those songs are just songs that I love. Theyre normal songs that everybody likes. I just wanted to play them because I was bored, you know?
Not all those songs on The Covers Record are songs that everyone knows about.
Yeah. Thats true. Michael Hurley, I guess, or the bootleg Bob Dylan traditional things. You know, the kind of music environment that Im in, Im not really major label or whatever, so I know that a lot of people that listen to music like mine know all those songs, or predominantly a lot of them.
What about Salty Dog?
Ive been singin that since I was probably five years old. Yeah. Me and my grandmother used to sing it.
What do think about fame and the music business, in general?
I am not famous. Ill tell you that. I am not famous. Believe me. Sometimes some young girls or young guys will come up and say, "Oh, Chan, I drove to see you and I just think youre really inspiring," and that doesnt make me feel famous, you know what I mean?
Does it make you feel good?
Yeah, Its nice. I think people who are famous dont get made to feel nice. Yeah, thats perfect. Awesome.
I saw a review that said that your music will "heal".
A seventeen-year-old girl in France I was very sick and tired of doing interviews and stuff and tired of being on tour for eight months and this girl was there to interview me, and so what I did was take all my clothes off and I shoved em full of towels so it looked like there was a form. I put the pillows on my supposedly head, and then she came in she knocked on the door and whatever so, she came in and I was hiding, basically, but because I was laughing so hard, cuz I was cryin (before) and I didnt want to talk to any humans. Then, they realized that I was not really there, and they started laughing really hard. Then that made me laugh. Then, I talked to them. Shes like, "Why are you doing that?" I was like, "Its really hard to tell you why Im doing that cuz Im really angry right now. I dont want to do this. But I made all these responsibilities: The record label, the booking agent, the people in the band. I have to fucking do this and I dont want to do it and Im tired of doing it and Id rather die." And I was so upset. She just started cryin and she told me that if I died, then she would kill herself. She said, "You have helped me so much in my life, and I will try to commit suicide, and my parents they are abusing me, and my boyfriend has left me " and all this heavy shit. Its people like that that are young, and that are like theyre like ten years younger than me. And I know when I was that age, shit was so hard for me, too. Like you. Like everybody. So, thats one reason why when people say, "Well why do you do it if you dont like being on stage?" I just say, "Well because theres this strange feeling that I feel like what Im doing is something good." Im trying to do something honest or something. They say, "Why dont you try to write songs? Why dont you try to make a better record? Why dont you blah, blah, blah?" Because thats just not who I am, and if I tried to do that I dont think it would be good. I think it would sound like U2s last record. You remember U2 used to be like, You know, (Chan does her Bono impression) "Martin Luther King blah, blah, blah Freedom" Now theyre like, (she sings again) "Oooh, baby." If I tried to do it in the level that you wanted me to try try, try, try it would sound like shit, and I know it would. And I wouldnt be doing anything good for anybody, like that seventeen-year-old girl in Paris. I dont do it for other people. I dont do it for them to listen to. I just do it. Now, Ive realized that thats my only trade. I didnt go to college. I didnt graduate high school. I dont know how to add correctly. I never read. I dont know anything much, so its like this is all I have, you know what I mean?
Its what you do.
Its what I do now, and I dont do it, technically, the way that other people do it, you know what I mean? It fuels my dislike for doing it when I have to explain myself so much. A lot of interviewers say, "Why are you doing it. Why do you get on stage if you dont like it that much?" Its part of the routine, its part of the expression, and the movement, and the experiment of life. Its like what I do. If I were a ballet dancer, Id probably be doing some ballet somewhere. If I were a monkey, or if I worked with monkeys, I would be hangin out with monkeys all the time. It would just be something that I did. Since Im a musician, I happen to play for people. Of course I dont think about it too much, but when I get asked about it I get shocked cuz I cant believe cuz my dad is a musician. I grew up always going to see him play. Since Im a musician, it just seemed natural that I would play, too. I think, just cuz I grew up with it. Im not like Prince, or Beck, or Blues Explosion, you now that like have fun and trip around and jump off their amps and say, "Fuck yeah!" and all that, and "Alright!" and actually put "Alright!" and "Yeah!" in their lyrics. Im not like that. Id love to be like that. Id have so much fun, and God, people would love it. I know that people want to see the rock, and I cant give it to em.
Do you prefer to perform alone or with a band?
I prefer to do whatever my impulses (tell me) at certain times of life. I dont prefer one thing. Ive never been black and white. Situations, people, and things in life. Theyre always changing. Theyre always doing different things. So, I never prefer anything over anything else. I used to never like gold. But now I wear a gold ring instead of silver. I wore a silver ring for eight years. I took the silver one off and I wear a gold one. As you grow older, you stop being so black and white. I love those people (people she has played with in the past) and Id love to play with them someday, but I dont know if I ever will. Right now Im doing this, and Im trying to do this right now. I dont know whats going to happen next year, and I havent thought about, so I dont know
Well, Im glad youre doing this.
Thank You. Its not as big of a thing. The whole record label and the booking agent, they think, "This isnt a very big record. Its just kinda like a little thing shes doing. Its her side project." Im like, "No, its not. Im doing this. I feel the same way that I did 2 years ago or 4 or 5 years ago.
Its just as important to you as the other records that you made?
Well, actually, no. Thats wrong. This is probably the most important stuff that Ive ever liked, or that Ive ever tried to do. But, the thing is that theyre making it seem like its actually smaller than what Ive done. And in the past I never cared about what I did, and now theyre sayin that its smaller than what Ive done, and I actually loved it. Its all marketing and motives.
Do you like what Matador does for you?
I like them. I do like them. I do like them. They put everything in my lap. Theyre like, "Here. This is what it is. You are the boss. Thats great, and thats the way it should be in any artistic world. But, because Im not an artist, nor am I a business person, I cant understand that theres a relationship going on between the two, you know what I mean? Sometimes I get really uncomfortable cuz I cant understand what is right or what is wrong with a business sensiblity.
(At this point in the interview, Chan arrives at the club in Memphis where she just played the night before, to pick up a box of cds that were left.)
Im at the club now, Im gonna fix my hair now, put on my purse. I have a little feminine purse. Look in the mirror. Okay. No boogers in my nose. Sorry, I know the guys not gonna be here, cuz I told him to be here at three. And Im late as hell. Im in Memphis, you know, and I havent been in the South in awhile, and I just love the way people talk.
What about Elvis, is he down there?
No. Poor Elvis. He had it all. Poor Kurt Cobain. Poor Marilyn Monroe. Poor James Dean.
(She figures out whats going on with her box of cds, then decides she needs to go fill her car up with a bit of gas, so we travel a little more before coming to the end of our talk. But first )
(in a her Memphis accent): Im going to Murpheesboro. Im onna play some sowngs. Whats the accent out there like?
Well, if you go a couple hours South, you sound a little bit Southern.
(doing her Bob Pollard impression): Like GBV band? By Bob Pollards house? I love Bob Pollard. Hes great. Hes great, man. I love him. Hes a good guy, man.
Guided By Voices?
Oh, youre one of them. You dont like em. You havent been changed. They havent changed your world. The day they changed my world, I realized what it meant to be screaming at the top of my lungs, "G! B! V!" They changed it. They opened another door for me.
Theyre from my hometown. From Dayton, OH.
Oh, Bull! I dont buy it. Youre not from there. Youre one of those, "Oh, Im from there now." (she laughs a little, through her nose)
Yeah, Now that theyre big, Im from there. No, I really am. I dont know those guys or anything, but I grew up there.
Hes great. You have to see him live. You have to stand in the front row. And you have to talk to him after the show and buy him a beer. You have to listen to what he says you have to become friends with him. Thats the main love.
Is that the way it needs to be?
Thats the way it is with everyone who loves him. Once they know him, and they see that hes a beaming child at forty.
He was a school teacher, right?
Seventeen-year-old son now. Fifteen-year-old daughter or sumpm. Hes livin a dream, you know, like he did it. Pretty amazing.
Do you have dreams like that.
No, not at all. If I did, Id give them to him and let him do it for me cuz I know hed have a lot of fun. Hed have more fun than I would livin it, doin that. He just works so hard. They just give a hundred percent every night. These fans are just in love. Its like they found God. They will not let them stop. They will not let them leave. Its amazing. They keep doin it. They give, like a hundred percent. Its amazing Oh, God where are my keys? Oh, Lord.
Im one of those stupid idiot people that cant uhhh I lost 4500 dollars the other day.
And my credit card. Well, it got stolen out of the rental car, but I left it in the rental car by accident.
Yeah, its pretty bad. I was pretty stupid.
(She found her cds and her keys, and she was off to Murpheesboro)